Every adventure starts with a great idea — no matter if it’s going on a holiday, organizing a barbeque or starting a company.
Whereas some of those adventures have minor impacts on the people involved, starting a company usually is a long-term commitment. It is, therefore, paramount to have a way to establish the viability of the idea reasonably fast.
When we started Innovo42, we asked ourselves what the most important drivers are when developing a new product.
At an early stage, we came up with the following key factors:
·The ability to transform ideas into solutions in a fast way
·Adapting to a changing environment
·Operational effort to maintain the solution
Ability to transform ideas into solutions
If good ideas cannot be converted into a product, they remain at the stage of ideas or dreams. This is why it is crucial to have the ability to build prototypes fast and in different variations.
This is not a standard software development process but requires — especially in the beginning — multiple, rapid iterations.
Agility to adapt to an ever-changing environment rapidly
One of the key survival skills in today’s business landscape is the ability to adjust to an ever-changing environment rapidly. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the overall solution can be maintained, without adding unnecessary complexity.
Operational effort to maintain the solution
Although we tend to concentrate on the initial ideation and development phase of a solution, we must not forget what is required to maintain a product on a daily basis. This will have a direct impact on the operating cost and, implicitly, the profitability.
So, what are our options for low code development platforms?
When we started, we evaluated a few scenarios.
Outsource Product Development
It has always seemed a common approach to define certain parts of the idea in-house while outsourcing the development to an offshore developer.
In our case, after having a few meetings with potential vendors, we quickly realized that this approach may work for an organization that intends to enhance a clearly defined and scoped solution but poses significant issues for a startup that needs to adjust to customer demands fast.
The major drawback for this approach is that in the ideation phase there is no clear scope and definition — and if there is, it may look rather different in the next iteration.
Additionally, it can be challenging to communicate ideas, which are mostly based on a business-relevant topic, to an offshore development center, which is mostly focused on technical topics.
In-House Development Team
The other obvious option is to build an in-house capability to handle the development of products. The main advantage of this solution is close collaboration during the whole product development lifecycle. This enables an iterative innovation process that helps turn an idea into a product.
However, the main issue with this solution is an obvious one: cost. Furthermore, it quickly opens a start-up up to a key person risk within the development team.
Particularly in the beginning, when there is just no time and resources to have enough redundancies, this can potentially lead to a dangerous brain drain and permanent loss of knowledge.
Another point of concern is the maintenance of the overall solution. Taking care of the overall monitoring and deployment between development and production environments can require significant operational resources.
Low-Code Development Platforms
A not-so-obvious option for a start-up is to leverage a low code development platform. This option has some similarities to an in-house development team.
It keeps the core development in-house while the low code platform takes care of standard functionalities, simplifies integration of third-party services. and applies best practice UX standards.
Having the ability to test ideas directly on a low code platform is a big value-add for prototyping new solutions. Similarly, the same advantage applies when enhancing existing solutions.in
The other big plus is the fact that operational tasks are taken care of by the platform itself. The best practices are out of the box for security and certifications while maintenance efforts are reduced significantly.
Of course, the major disadvantage of low code platforms is the base price, which can be high for an early stage startup.
After evaluating all the options, our undisputed choice was to go with a low code platform, even though we did not see many other start-ups adopting this approach.
So far, this paid off as it allows us to convert ideas to workable prototypes at a speed that would otherwise not be possible.
Another key benefit for us is the standardized and fully automated operational processes of the platform.
This significantly reduces the time to deploy prototypes/product enhancements while ensuring the integrity of the overall solution.
And the effort required for monitoring and running the platform is reduced to a minimum, which frees up time for other activities.
So, what does it take to use a low code development platform for a company or start-up in particular?
First and foremost, it is important to work with individuals who have knowledge of software development in the team. To use a low code platform effectively, developers working with it need software development experience and knowledge.
However, it does take away the need to spend countless hours going through the syntax of code.
I would go as far as to say that it favors specialists with a mix of business acumen and an (advanced) affinity for technology and software development.
Our Experience with Low Code Development Platforms
Firstly, having worked with low-code development platforms for quite a while, we had a very positive experience so far. It allowed us to quickly validate new ideas, move them to the next stage if promising, or drop them if not feasible.
Secondly, it also allowed us to keep our costs under control as the running cost of the overall platform becomes scalable and predictable.
One danger I see is that due to the ease ideas can be converted to prototypes, focus can be lost. This needs to be addressed by operational means, but in a way that initiative and innovation are not reduced.